The very large telescope of the European Southern Observatory (VLT ESO) has captured the first-ever image of a young solar star accompanied by two giant exoplanets. Images of systems with multiple exoplanets are extremely rare, and to date, astronomers have never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star like the Sun. Observations can help astronomers understand how planets formed and developed around our Sun. Research published by Astrophysical Journal Letters, images by European Southern Observatory.
Just a few weeks ago, ESO showed a planetary system being born in a stunning new image. Now, the same telescope, using the same instrument, has taken the first direct image of the planetary system – TYC 8998-760-1 – around a star similar to our Sun, located about 300 light-years from Earth. Despite being far away, the new solar system is very similar to ours.
This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our solar system but at a much earlier stage in its development.
Despite the fact that astronomers have indirectly discovered thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a small fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged. Direct observation is essential for finding an environment that can support life. Images of two or more exoplanets around the same star are even rarer. Until now, only two such systems have been directly observed, both around stars markedly different from our Sun. This is the first direct image of more than one exoplanet around a solar star today.
The team of scientists was able to take the first image of two gas giant satellites that revolve around a young solar analog for the first time. The two planets can be seen in the new image as two bright points of light distant from their parent star, which is located in the upper left corner of the frame. By taking different pictures at different times, the team was able to distinguish these planets from the background stars.
The two gas giants revolve around their star 320 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. The discovered exoplanets are much farther from their star than Jupiter or Saturn – also two gas giants – from the Sun. Exoplanets are located 5 and 10 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, respectively. The team also discovered that the two exoplanets are much heavier than those in our solar system: the inner planet is 14 times the mass of Jupiter and the outer one six times.
Further observations of this system, including with ESO’s future Extreme Large Telescope (ELT), will allow astronomers to check if these planets formed at their current location far from the star or migrated from somewhere else. ESO’s ELT will also help explore the interaction of two young planets in the same system.
The possibility that future, more advanced instruments will be able to detect even smaller planets around this star is a milestone in understanding multiplanetary systems that could affect the history of our own solar system, the scientists conclude.